|16||I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore
be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
|17||“Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to
the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.
|18||On my account you will be brought before governors and kings
as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.
|19||But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how
to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,
|20||for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.|
|21||“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child;
children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.
|22||All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to
the end will be saved.
|23||When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell
you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of
Israel before the Son of Man comes.
May 7, 1989. On that day, exactly 11 years ago today, I preached my first sermon as your pastor. And now 11 years later on May 7, 2000, I stand here to preach my last sermon. The Bible says the first will be last and the last will be first, and since I am pretty much a biblical literalist I will preach as my last sermon the first sermon I preached here on May 7, 1989. A sermon entitled Don’t Forget Your Name.
In my wildest dreams – I should say nightmares – I never dreamed of what has happened to our family over the last few months. I didn’t plan on leaving Central church this way. I appreciate your prayers, your encouragement for Michael and for the rest of us; and this morning it’s a whole lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I realized as I arrived here this morning I’ve never had a chance to grieve my leaving this church. I planned on doing that during Lent but as most of you know Ash Wednesday threw our lives into turmoil… the bottom dropped out. And I went through that dark tunnel that I hadn’t visited in a dozen years since the death of our daughter Anna. Again, I thank you for your continued prayers as we move to Dallas and begin a new chapter of ministry there.
But this morning’s not about me, it’s about Christ. The context for this sermon this morning is not my leaving here; it’s really the same context that every one of the hundreds of sermons that I’ve preached from this pulpit has taken place in and that’s the context of a preacher who’s in love with Christ and in love with his congregation. I thank you for being a congregation that has unconditionally loved me and my family, who has laughed with us and cried with us who has encouraged us, who has supported us in good times and in bad times and in this latest chapter of darkness that has intruded into our lives. I thank you that you have borne much of our sorrow along with us, as well as the hope that the doctors and Christ has given us. So I want to say thank you; I don’t have enough time to say that it in the way it should be said but I think you know where I am coming from.
But again, this is not about me, it’s about Christ and so I invite you now to turn with me and keep your Bibles open to the Gospel of Matthew the 10th chapter as this morning we look as some of you did back on May 7, 1989, at verses 16-23; Matthew the 10th chapter beginning to read at the 16th verse. This is the word of God:
Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and he says,
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the gentiles.
But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me but he who stands firm till the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Join me as we pray.
And now Father, as my words are true to your word may they be taken to heart; but as my words should stray from your word may they quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
If there was ever a horrible incident about how not to do recruiting this has got to take the cake. Jesus gathers his disciples and he tells them – he minces no words as he tells them – what it’s going to be like if they follow Him, if they go out into the world and bear the name ‘Christian.’ He talks to them about persecution and suffering and broken relationships, even, even death. Martyrdom may be their lot if they decide to follow Him.
Now why does Jesus tell them this? Is He trying to scare them off? No, he tells them this because Jesus was, back then and still today, a realist. He well knew that the pre-Christian world that His disciples lived in and the post Christian world that you and I live in today as disciples of Christ is not very friendly to Christians. Oh, it’s a very friendly world to those who are spiritual or religious: you can talk about Jesus all you want at a cocktail party and everyone will show some sort of interest. But talk about Jesus being the exclusive way to salvation as being the sole source of truth and soon the wolves will turn on you. Christ says it is to bear the name Christian in a responsible faithful way that is going to make you like a lamb living in a world of ravenous wolves. Jesus knew that when the disciples faced these kinds of pressures in this wolf-like world, it was going to cause them to be tempted to forget who they were, to deny the name of Christ.
Some of you saw the mini-series “Roots” when it came on 25 years ago and it’s been on a few other times since then; do you remember the episode where Kunte Kinte has been purchased by the plantation owner down in Annapolis and he’s put to work in the field and this new owner decides he’s going to change Kunte Kinte’s name? He changes his name to Toby. But when Kunte Kinte is called Toby he doesn’t respond, his only reply is “My name Kunte Kinte.” Well, the foreman decides he’s going to teach Kunte Kinte his new name, so he lashes his hand to a post and he asks him, “What is your name?” and Kunte Kinte replies, “My name Kunte Kinte” and, crack!, the whip rips into Kunte Kinte’s flesh. Again he’s asked, “What is you name?”
“My name Kunte Kinte.” Again the whip sings out and begins to flail open Kunte Kinte’s back, and again and again and again he’s asked, “What is your name?” And again and again Kunte Kinte replies, “My name Kunte Kinte”, and the whip continues to rip him wide open until the point where he’s beaten and bloodied, and one final time the foreman says, “What is your name?” and now in a broken voice with tears and sweat pouring down his face Kunte Kinte replies, “My name Toby.”
There’s something wrapped up in our names isn’t there? Our names identify us. Our names are all about who we are, our character and personality, our names define us. That was even more the case in Jesus day when your name really did express what kind of character or personality you had. And you and I, at least some of us here, have decided to join with those disciples who first heard these words from Christ, we’ve decided to follow him and move out and take upon us that new name that He gives us when we surrender our lives to Him.
We’re just like Abram whose name was changed to Abraham or like Jacob whose name was changed to Israel or Simon whose name was changed to Peter. Those people had a genuine life transforming encounter not with some historic figure that lived and died 2000 years ago but someone who has been raised from the dead and is alive. And you and I, if we’re Christians today, we’ve met that same Christ and it’s changed us, it’s transformed our entire lives right down to our names. So that now you and I now bear that precious name of Christian. And Jesus tells those early disciples and he tells you and me here in the 21st century, that you’re going to go out and you’re going to be like lambs in the midst of wolves.
In this world around us – this post Christian secularized culture that’s wolf-like in it’s attitude towards persons who have made Jesus Christ the center of their lives – the world growls, “Who are you?” And we say, “We’re lambs” and the wolves of cynicism, despair, and political power and economic pressures and doubt – all these wolves gather around us and threaten to tear us up. And we see that and as Christians we stop and we count the cost, and if you’re like me you’re tempted, you’re tempted to forget your name, you’re tempted to deny who you really are. And the wolves, of hedonism and materialism and consumerism, gather around us and they say, “What’s your name?” and we say, “Christian” and they say, “No, your name is Toby.” It doesn’t take you and me very long to figure out that if we want to get somewhere at work, if you want to be accepted in school, if we don’t want to look unacceptable to the culture surrounding us, things work a whole lot better, a whole lot easier if we say, “My name Toby.” We deny, we forget who we really are because of the pressures that surround us.
Jesus said, “You’re going to be hauled before civil courts, you’re going to be flogged in the synagogues. It can get so bad out there that even your friends and your family may turn upon you if you really place your ultimate allegiance in me.” And we hear that and we go, “Hmm, maybe I can call myself something else. Maybe there is another way to do this.” None of us want to be persecuted or oppressed – none of us. So we are tempted to forget who we are and deny our names.
What are those trials in your life that are pressing on you right now? What are they? Maybe a little-less-than-legitimate business deal that is enticingly right there in front of you, or maybe it’s the easy opportunity to cheat on a final exam, and then every year with great regularity April 15th rolls around, or maybe we’re tempted to turn our backs upon the demonic injustice and evil and poverty in the lives of people in our very own city, just forget that that’s out there; or the temptation to be a closet Christian, don’t let anyone know – “My name Toby.” That way you don’t go through all the snide comments and the harassment that come with really living publicly as a sold out servant of Jesus Christ.
And we’re not alone when we feel the temptation to forget our names. You can look in the Bible and many great men and woman gave up that name for a while and they took on the name Toby. Abraham when he was brought before King Abimelech, gave up the name husband because King Abimelech had his eye on Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and he thought, “He might kill me” and so he tells Abimelech that Sarah is his sister. There in that court yard on the eve before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter three times denies the name of Christ and in so doing denies his own name. Now, we give Peter a lot of heat for that, don’t we? I wish at the end of my life I could say that I’ve denied Christ only three times. The temptation is there.
As I look out over this congregation, I see business men of all sorts, doctors, accountants, computer programmers, housewives, students. But not just run of the mill normal architects and plumbers and all kinds people of different trades, but ones that bear the name “Christian” who Christ died for and gave them the privilege of bearing that wonderful name, and yet I look out I and I see men and women, boys and girls who are at various points demoralized, who feel hemmed in and pressured and tempted to give up that name. And I’m with you, I’m tempted all the time to just put my light under a bushel, go along with the flow and say – “My name Toby.”
But when we do that it’s not very good for us spiritually, emotionally, psychologically. The late Christian psychiatrist Dr. Paul Tournieau said that when you and I deny our names we disconnect from who we really are, we disconnect from reality. When you and I deny who we are we get really confused and yet the temptation is there and we are not alone, we’re not alone. If you’re like me, I’ve blown it many times. I realize that it’s a whole lot easier to live out there and say, “Hey, my name Toby.”
Sometimes I walk that path, but do you know what? Once upon a time there was a man, a man who was fastened to a post and he was humiliated, mocked, and beaten and scourged and killed: our Lord Jesus. Hanging on Calvary’s cross, he went through all of that for you and me but he never, he never, he never said, “My name Toby”; he never said that. He never denied who he was and because of that there is hope for me and you. Jesus in this text says to His disciples, “You’re going be tempted to get away from all this persecution and suffering; you’re going to be tempted to deny who you are. But it’s the person who endures to the end whose going to be saved. It’s the person who endures to the end – remembering what their name is and claiming that name – that’s the person who’s going to experience God’s salvation first hand. That’s the person who’s life is going to sing with integrity and authenticity.”
But if you’re like me and you hear that and say, “Man, that’s really not good news. That’s not good for me who has a tough enough time trying to make it through the next 24 hours bearing this name, let alone enduring to the end. But Jesus never said, “My name Toby”, he never gave in. When you and I have given in, He hasn’t. When you and I have denied who we are, Christ never has. When you and I have failed and turned our backs on Him, He has never turned His back on you and me. My friends, that is the good news of the Gospel. Because when you and I place all our allegiance in Christ, when you and I turn to him, then he opens the door to you and me to reclaim the name that he has purchased for us.
I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t care how many times you’ve denied your name, denied Christ, Christ swings the door continually open to you and me.
And here’s further good news: on top of that He gives you and me a power. A power to go from this point out being able to endure whatever comes our way, and to be able not to deny who we really are, and that power is the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “You’re going to be hauled before courts and kings and governors and you’re going to worry what are you going to say: ‘Am I going to blow it? Am I going to give in?’ He says, “Don’t be anxious. You’re going to know what to say because it’s going to be the Spirit of my Father who will speak through you.”
Back in 1917, one of the worst episodes of genocide ever occurred. The story is not told very often but should be. Somewhere around 750 thousand Armenian Christians were massacred by Muslim Turks. What they did is they lined those Christians: men, women, boys and girls. Behind them they dug massive trenches that would be their graves. Then they gave them a choice, they went down the line to each person, stuck a revolver under their chin and said, “Mohammed or Christ?” There it is: the name. They had a choice now, a choice of two names – Toby or Christ… and you’re standing there, you saw what happened when the person next to you said the wrong name and yet boys and girls, men and woman, one after or another, responded with, “Christ, only Christ.” BAM! Into the trench. What gave those people, what gave them the strength the power, the ability to respond like that? Their own strength? Forget it, folks.
The Holy Spirit is unleashed in the world and when you and I place our lives and our deaths in the hand of Christ, when we say, “I claim the name of Christian; I’m going to bear that name at all costs,” then God says, “I’m going to enable you to keep that vow and I am going to give you my Holy Spirit.” Some of you know what I am talking about.
I’m heading to Dallas, This is my last shot here so I am going to take advantage of the opportunity and bring it home, the cruciality of the moment, home, right now. There are some of you here this morning who have never had you’re name changed, you’ve never surrendered your life to Christ. “Oh, but Ron, I go to church every Sunday.” So? Going to church doesn’t make you any more of a Christian than hanging around in a garage for a long time is going to make you a car. You become a Christian not by being religious. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again, my last shot: God gags on religion. Religion makes God puke. He’s not interested in how religious you are; He’s interested in whether or not you are willing to enter into a relationship with Him. A personal relationship not with a story book character who lived and died and now has the Easter bunny to herald his blessing, but a real live LORD who is alive and here and loves you more than you’ll ever know and who wants the best for your life and who has opened up not only life, but eternal life for you. He says, “Come know me. I am the creator of the entire universe.”
Oh, how Carl Sagan (this wasn’t in the sermon in 1989) wishes he had availed himself of that relationship now. Don’t be like him. Don’t say my name Toby. There aren’t going to be any Toby’s in heaven. Christ offers you Himself and I hope if you’ve never had your name changed this can be the day that that happens. Others of us here need to have a reclamation of that name; we need to reclaim it. And we all need that power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to endure some of the stuff that the world’s going to dish out and to endure to the end.
So, I’m heading off to Dallas, my charge to you is do not forget your name and by God’s grace I won’t either.
Join me as we pray.
LORD, we thank you that before the foundation of the world you thought of us and created us in your image and breathed into us the breath of life. We thank you that you offer us this new name in Christ, an opportunity for a new life. LORD, give us your Holy Spirit that we might persevere to the end, be winsome witnesses for you through our speech and through our actions, may people see Jesus Christ alive in us. For we ask it in His strong and saving name. Amen.